In the tabs above, you will find pictures of the various eras of the Top Hat, alongside memories and stories that have been submitted by the community. We invite you to browse these memories and relive the glory days of one of Dublin's best-loved music venues.
This is an ongoing exhibit and will be addded to as time goes on.
If you would like to submit your own memories, or we've missed out your favourite artist, please email Michael.Murphy@iadt.ie
Maybe you wouldn't have been able to go inside the Top Hat while these TV shows and films were being shot but recognising that they happened is an important part of the venue's history as well. Alan Parker's 1991 film The Commitments was partly shot there. Popular music programs such as Like Now! and Non-Stop Pop, both on RTE, also shot a few gigs during the venue's golden age. The most recent guest star appearance of the Top Hat was in the 2015 skateboard documentary Hill Street, proving once more that the venue remains alive in more ways than one.
Dún Laoghaire’s Top Hat venue played a vital role in the cultural life of the area. Its impact stretched far beyond Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown. From its opening night with a splendid orchestra in 1953 until its final major gig in 1991 (Sonic Youth/Nirvana), it presented a variety of music genres to audiences. In fact, it is possible to trace the history of popular music in Ireland by examining the archives of the Top Hat.
Here you will see the evolution of formally dressed dancers in the 1950s to the slightly more casual showband days with the Miami, the Capitol, Chips, the Nevada and Tony Kenny. Roller skates replaced flares in the 1970s, although by night Doc Marten’s boots were the footwear of many with the arrival of punk. The Top Hat hosted The Clash, The Jam, The Stranglers and The Damned as well as up and coming Irish bands who opened for them: U2, Virgin Prunes, The Vipers and The Golden Horde.
Later the Top Hat played a vital role in Dublin’s thriving skateboard culture, and even hosted the legendary Tony Hawk. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, it also welcomed the new tide of metal bands including Metallica, Slayer, Anthrax, Faith No More, Sepultura and Suicidal Tendencies. Memorable performances by the Human League, Jesus and Mary Chain, The Waterboys, Hothouse Flowers, Something Happens!, The Pogues, The Mission, The Fountainhead, the Pleasure Cell, Those Handsome Devils and Carl Mann and and Nirvana in their earliest days also took place.
Yet the Top Hat’s story is not just about entertainment - it is a story of enterprise too.
In this exhibition, you can explore not only the music of the Top Hat but also the business minds behind it. Most importantly it celebrates the people who made the Top Hat what it was - the dancers, the staff and concert-goers.
Members of the IADT community have also shared their memories of the Top Hat, which you can read alongside images of the different eras.
This exhibition was curated by the Music Industry students from the New Media Studies, Business Studies and Arts Management courses of Dún Laoghaire Institute of Art, Design and Technology in conjunction with the Lexicon Library and IADT Library. Thanks to Callie Hardy and Jack Kavanagh-Homan for providing a history of the music scene in the Top Hat.
Special thanks go to Marian Keyes and all of the Lexicon Library staff, Lorna Dodd and everyone at IADT library, the team at Classic Dublin Gigs, all of the people who contributed and in particular to Stephen Byrnes and Colin Holohan who opened up their private family archives so generously.
Some of the submitted memories and stories have been lightly edited for clarity.